NZUKO UMUNNA WORLD PRESS CONFERENCE ON THE STATE OF THE NATION ANCHORED BY DR SAM AMADI AND PROF UDENTA O. UDENTA
Monday 24th May 2021 @ NUJ House Abuja, Nigeria
The attention of Nzuko Umuna, a leading socio-cultural association of Igbo professionals and patriots, has been drawn to a widely circulated statement credited to the Inspector General Police authorizing police officers to shoot at sight suspected members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) without minding human rights protections fully guaranteed by the constitution. According to multiple newspaper, television, and social media reports, the Inspector General, while launching Operation Restore Peace in Southeast in Enugu on May 18, 2021, declared thus: “Don’t mind the media shout; do the job I command you. If anyone accuses you of human rights violation, the report will come to my table, and you know what I will do. So, take the battle to them wherever they are and kill them all. Don’t wait for an order. Don’t sit and wait for them to come; take the attack to them and don’t lose your arms to criminals”.
We consider this statement horrifying, frightening and unutterable in a democracy with entrenched constitutional rights to life and due process. We are more surprised that the head of the Nigerian Police will make such an outrageous statement authorizing state violence in a region that, for long, has been seething with anger at police brutality and extortion and a region whose youths have been extra-judicially killed by security agents in large numbers. This statement sends shivers down the spines of residents of southeast because it suggests a declaration of war againstthem by the Nigerian state; and conjure images of gruesome murders like we saw during the infamous ‘Python Dance’ in the southeast. Already, there are credible reports of numerous extrajudicial killings of people in the southeast. How many more will be killed if soldiers and police officers believe that there will be no accountability for all forms of impunity and atrocity in the southeast.
We understand the exasperation of the government about the insecurity crisis in the country and the spate of attacks against law enforcement personnel and state security institutions, infrastructure, and assets. Nzuko Umunna fully supports efforts, in accordance with constitutional norms and global standards of law enforcement, to protect the lives and properties of Nigerians in the South East and elsewhere in Nigeria. We condemn in unmistakable language attacks against police officers and other law enforcement agents in the South East, the South South, the South West, the North Central, the North East and the North West. We urge the Nigeria Police to painstakingly find out and prosecute those who are guilty of such nefarious and criminal actions against law and order; and to use all legitimate force to prevent such attacks.
However, the painful loss of lives of men and officers under one’s watch is not a justification for an indiscriminate and vicious resort to state violence against Nigerian citizens in the South East by the head of the Nigerian police. Such reckless statement betrays a determination to punish Nigerian citizens in the region and deprive them of the due process protection under the constitution. The resort to state violence against Nigerian citizens in the South East contravenes Mr. President’s oath of office to protect the lives and wellbeing of all Nigerians without regard to ethnic, religious, and other identities. The statement also violates the mandate of the Nigerian police as a state institution under the constitution and the Police Act.
Nzuko Umuna recognizes that Nigeria has descended into depth of insecurity partly because of the failure of governance across the country and particularly because of inequities and injustices of political leadership in Nigeria. We acknowledge that the perception of unfair and unequal treatment of citizens compounds the insecurity crisis. Statements like those of the IGP further deepens the sense of victimization by the state and therefore escalates the crisis. We support the resolutions of the Southern Governors Forum, which has received tremendous endorsement by leading politicians and civil leaders in the north and south of Nigeria. We urge the federal government and its agencies and institutions to pursue this path of reason and justice in order to save Nigeria from looming and devastating collapse.
We regret that the South East, the safest region in Nigeria, has increasingly become a site of organized criminality. We stand with the Southeast Governors, the Ohaneze Ndigbo and other civic organizations in Igbo to demand proper forensic audit of the hitherto unheard ‘Unknown Gunmen’ syndrome as it is strange to the customs and norms of people of the region. We know from data available in public domain that there has been escalation of killing of police officers across the country before the current wave of attacks in the South East. This suggests that the ‘unknown gunmen’ phenomenon may relate to a more complex crisis of insecurity in Nigeria. With open borders, increasing poverty and frustration of youths, corruption in the most hallowed centers of law enforcement, herdsmen violence and banditry, and political brigandage in Nigeria, a simplistic and unscientific explanation of the ‘Unknown Gunmen’ phenomenon does not suffice. Nevertheless, we support effective law enforcement actions to defeat those criminals killing police officers. Both political and civil leaders in South East fully support efforts to take the region back to its status as the safest region of the country.
In the context of history of extrajudicial killing of youths of South East as a result of presumed law enforcement actions, we view the IGP’s charge as a declaration of war against the region and an authorization for the killing of innocent persons. Even in a state of war against enemy combatants, states apply rules of engagement, including due process guarantees for even non-citizens in compliance with extant international humanitarian laws and laws that govern armed combats. In the last conflict between Israel and Hamas, a globally acknowledged terror organization, the State of Israel continued to take extra measures to protect civilians from legitimate airstrikes. But the Nigerian Inspector General of Police asked his men and officers to brush aside such rules and probably kill citizens who are neither enemy combatants nor insurgents.
By this press conference, we give the National Human Rights Commission notice to commence investigation of the statement of Inspector General of Police and take proactive preventive actions to avert extrajudicial killings in the South East. We also serve notice to the international community, particularly, the International Criminal Court and the United Nation Human Rights Council and the various High Commissions and Embassies in Nigeria, of a policy of state violence against Nigerian citizens in South East who are mostly Igbos. These authorities should take proactive actions to avert what is clearly a policy of state violence against some Nigerians by the Nigerian security institutions.
Gentlemen of the press, we are not demanding the resignation or the sack of the Inspector General of Police. We are willing to give the police chief the benefit of doubt that the statement was a huge mistake of judgment because of the anxiety and anger at the unfortunate and highly condemnable killings of police officers. But we demand that he issues a public apology to the Nigerian people, particularly people of the South East and issues a counter-directive to police rank and file in the South East to prosecute the operation Restore Peace with scrupulous observance of constitutional rights guarantees and the fundamental norms of citizenship and accountability. The Inspector General of Police should follow this up with a letter addressed to the people of southeast reassuring them of lack of bias and criminal intent against them.
These actions are necessary to win the battle of hearts and minds and secure legitimacy and community support necessary to win the war against insecurity in the region and across all regions of Nigeria. We have to defeat insecurity in southeast and other regions of Nigeria. But we must protect the right to life and dignity of citizens in the southeast and other regions of the country. It is such wanton violations of the right to life and dignity of the people of the southeast during the ‘Python Dance’ that destabilized a haven of peace.
We want an end to state violence and siege against the southeast. We want justice and dignity for citizens in the southeast. We believe that resort to terror by the Nigerian state is not the way to stabilize Nigeria in the current crisis. With justice, with good faith to all and malice to none, and with competent leadership, we can still build a prosperous, democratic, and just Nigerian state that does not rely on brutal force to maintain legitimacy. Justice, not force, is the basis of political legitimacy. We demand justice for southeast and for all Nigerian regions.
It is time to end the military assault on the southeast.